Observing and Recording the 2012 Transit of Venus

There’s less than a month to go until the 2012 Transit of Venus! I’m trying to get everything organized — I think it’s going well, but I have this feeling that I’m going to open up a bag, whack myself on the forehead, and say something decidedly naughty. 🙂

One thing I’ve been doing is getting in as much practice as I can observing the Sun with gear I plan to use for the Transit. My big emphasis will be visual observation, but I do want to get a few photos for myself. There’ll be floods of gorgeous photos done by masters of astrophotography, so I’m not going to try to match them. I’ve blown a lot of observing time fiddling with equipment, and I’m doing my best to make sure I don’t do that on Transit Day.

Robert Naeye, the editor of Sky and Telescope Magazine, just posted a couple of articles on observing the Transit of Venus and this summer’s solar eclipses. One is on eye safety, something I’ve been promoting. The other one is on photographing these one-off events. These articles are good reads, so I’ll let you read them for yourself.  However, I’ll re-phrase two of the most important pieces of advice:

  • Practice with all your equipment as much as you can before Transit Day.
  • If you want to photograph the Transit, practice photographing the Sun as much as you can before Transit Day.
Camera, spotting scope, and solar filters

Digital camera and spotting scope, both fitted with solar filters

I’ll probably make some minor tweaks before hand, but I’m pretty confident about what I’ve selected. I just posted  a set of photos and comments on Flickr, which you can ignore, admire, or jeer at as you see fit. But here’s one shot of the rig I’ve put together.

My camera’s lens provides 30x optical zoom — real magnification, not  interpolated digital zoom.  It produces a decent image of the Sun, with a reasonable amount of detail. We’re not talking about a photo that is going to garner enormous fees from magazine editors, but great keepsake stuff. The big tube is a solar filter in a custom-built housing. (Yes, it uses certified eye-safe solar filter material.)

The spotting scope delivers a nice, clear image. Normally, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s small and light, which makes it good for travel. Its erect image means I won’t have to do mental gymnastics as I move from camera to scope. It’s got a commercial solar filter with a built-in Sun finder.

If you look carefully, the filter uses thumb screws to attach to the objective lens shield, and I’ve taped it down as well. When it comes to solar observing, the correct question is: “Are  you being paranoid enough?”

Both camera and scope are mounted on a dual-mounting bar and attached to a tripod with a geared head. I finally found a geared head I could afford, and it rocks! You get nice, smooth motion when you need it and a solid position lock when you need that.

I’m not 100% sure I’ll use the dual-mounting bar on Transit Day. On the last sunny day, I made certain I could get decent solar images with a hand-held camera. I’m trying to get all my options sorted out in advance.

People who know me will realize I’m an adherent of O’Neill’s Observation on Murphy’s Law: “Murphy was an optimist.” Something is going to go wrong on Transit Day. I can’t avoid every Murphistic assault, but I’m going to try. <Cue hideous, cackling laughter>

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About Tim Cole

Astronomy enthusiast and educator, all-around fancier of dark skies and starry nights
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